I love that, no matter how many times I visit my local bio shop during the week, there is never a consistency to the items stocked upon the shelves. It’s like going on a treasure hunt, or a game of guess what you’re not having for dinner. At the beginning of my stay here in Paris, it used to drive me crazy. Now, well, I’m a pro, knowing that I’ll at least have to make three different stops to three different supermarkets before my grocery shopping is done. And, on average, we’re talking three or four items per store. I’m on a two sac budget. If it can’t fit, I must omit. In one week, I could easily visit up to eleven different supermarkets and at least three different street markets before securing my groceries for the week.
Most of my shopping is done at the local Bio Coop – just up the street and around the corner. However, they never carry the hand soap, coco spread, or spicy hummus I love. There are times I trek across town to the other Bio Coop just a stone’s throw from the Bastille. I love this place (the Coop, not the Bastille – you ever tried crossing at the Bastille? Good luck with that). I have an account here, but, oddly, not at my local branch – each branch requires a separate account. I’ve become quite friendly with one of the managers. She’s always suggesting new products for me to try – like this amazing donkey milk soap I keep stocked, 2 to 3 bars at a time (as my daughter keeps swiping one). Sometimes, we talk health and nutrition, along with a little politicking (I can never stay away from politics no matter how hard I try). And, by no means, are these quick conversations like the ones back home in the States, where staff workers have been given strict orders to avoid any contact with customers – especially eye contact. Here in Paris, I spend hours chatting with shopkeepers and staff. I’ve even been told to slow down, as I’m forever rushing to bag my groceries. Yes, that is a thing here – bagging your own groceries. I carry two folded sacs in my purse at all times. AT. ALL. TIMES.
There’s Les Nouveaux Robinsons bio store, which I must admit is my favorite. It’s a few blocks away, but still within my neck of the woods. The staff here are semi-friendly, by French standards. I have yet to strike a familiar rapport with anyone as I leisurely browse up and down the aisles. This store is notorious for playing the old switcheroo. Although I’m always frustrated by what has disappeared from their shelves, I am equally ecstatic by what has been replaced. Today, I found a favorite mango dressing that I could only get from a bio store three arrondissements away. I did a little happy dance right there in the middle of the aisle. This store does, however, carry an assortment of vitamin supplements and bio cidre. Don’t think I don’t see the irony here – cidre and vitamins – but it’s bio cidre, and bio is good for you, right?
And, then, there’s that mango dressing bio store on the other side of the Jardin du Luxembourg. This store ranks pretty high on my favorites list. The manager, or possibly owner, is phenomenal. She’ll even go as far as to special order items. Of course, things that are only in season. I’m learning to eat seasonal and loving it. Once, she even special ordered great big bunches of kale (I guess there aren’t many kale eaters in the area), and gave me some sample products to try. HE – not he as in him, but the actual name of the store – is a gem. It has a rather small footprint, but carries really great products. This is the only store which stocks pre-cooked packages of green lentils and chickpeas (separately, not together). I’m lazy and ain’t got time for all that bean-soaking mess. I shop here more during the cooler months, when preparing my bi-weekly, hearty lentil loaf. It’s also a great walk, allowing me to get a little exercise in. During the summer months, it’s a bit too hot for power walks and lugging groceries around.
Then there’s my favorite little vegan supermarket deep in the Marais. Mon Epicerie Paris is owned by a Canadian Ex-pat. She’s extremely knowledgeable about vegan products. I visit once or twice a month. More during the winter months, as it’s cold enough that the amazing vegan cheese and frozen sorbets won’t melt on the long walks home. And, yes, I walk EVERYWHERE. Metro… we don’t need no stinking Metro – and, as with most underground subways, it really does stink. Now, back to that cheese. MEP carries an assortment of amazing vegan cheese – many of which are soy-free. I’m trying to avoid as much soy as possible while on this plant-based adventure (1 year and going strong). Here, too, is the only place that carries my favorite Jackfruit “Pulled-Pork”. I made my own from scratch once. Too much work – cans and chopping and simmering and baking. There’s another vegan shop not too far from this one. I visited it once, but it’s a bit too out of the way.
Then there’s that special little happy place – La Grande Epicerie de Paris. For most, this would be an experience. Been there, done that. I try to avoid this place during holidays and weekends, as there are sooooo many tourists navel-gazing up and down the aisles. Make no bones about it, this place is expensive – really, really, really expensive – too damn expensive. I go for three items in particular: a store-brand nut mix, an assorted fresh mushroom medley and a spicy truffle tapenade. Of course, I pick up one or two extra items if the budget allows. And, as with most of my grocery shopping here in Paris, they don’t always stock my favorite three. They went two months without the tapenade, and that nut mix is a hit or miss – as I’ve missed it my last three visits. The mushroom medley has completely disappeared since the days have turned long and warm. I haven’t made a trip back thus far this summer, but I’ll return in a few weeks.
There are items that I never shop bio for – Mama ain’t raise no fool. My Tropicana Sans Pulp Orange Juice. Yeah, yeah, it’s not bio. You can take the girl out of the US, but you can NOT take away her OJ. My local Franprix carries the small quarts, while the branch 5 blocks over carries the half gallons – as does the super Monoprix, which I only visit when the family comes to town, or when I need to stock up on cleaning supplies. I use white vinegar for just about everything, and I love picking up the 40 cent, quart-sized bottles at Franprix, along with my favorite recycled toilet paper – one of the few stores to carry this particular brand (dye free and sans parfum). Yes, in Paris, they still stock colored toilet paper, and some of them are scented. The women here must go through Monistat on the regular.
Marks and Spencer is my go to when I just want the luxury of reading and understanding the ingredients in my food. That might sound strange, but, trust me, it’s the little things. Last year, before going plant based, I used to buy most of my meats here. There is something about the way meat is packaged in French supermarkets that made me unsure of what the heck I was buying. I would say most of this was due to language, but it also seemed way too mysterious – real, real mysterious, like school-lunch, mystery meat mysterious. These days, I purchase my popcorn, stir fry veggie mix and bagged salads at the Spence. There are two locations. One not far from me and a bigger one in the next arrondissement – but it’s all about that exercise.
There are a few other bio stores scattered about and, by a few, I mean a lot more are popping up every day. I wonder how long before the outdoor markets start disappearing. My favorite, the Sunday Bio Market, on Boulevard Raspail, still remains packed. It’s a little expensive and I go every so often, rarely purchasing anything. I’ve got this little aversion to bugs and, as the produce is super fresh, you are sure to find a few creepy crawlies among your leafy greens. There are two other local street markets near me, one of which is where I get my garlic confit and spicy olives. Again, Paris being Paris, I’m not always guaranteed to walk away a happy camper, so I go with the expectation of being pleasantly surprised.
One thing I have learned from all of this is how to let go and adapt. I’ve also made some wonderful discoveries while exercising my mind, body and soul.